Faculty Highlight: Jessica Chacon, Ph.D.

Faculty Highlight: Jessica Chacon, Ph.D.

The Office of Institutional Advancement regularly features a Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso faculty or staff member who exemplifies the vision and mission of our institution. Their journeys to becoming TTUHSC El Paso employees are unique and work experiences vary, but all have a passion to improve the lives of the people in our community. They are dedicated to excellence and committed to care.

This month’s employee is Jessica A. Chacon, Ph.D., assistant professor of immunology and microbiology with the Foster School of Medicine.

Educating the community is the lifeblood of Jessica A. Chacon, Ph.D.’s, work at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. When the assistant professor of immunology and microbiology isn’t teaching, she’s outside the classroom running the El Paso Health Education and Awareness Team (EP-HEAT), part of the Foster School of Medicine, as well as a new initiative, the Promotores de Salud program. Her work has garnered over $200,000 in corporate and foundation support in 2021 alone.

Dr. Chacon is a native El Pasoan who received her B.S. in Biology from the University of Texas at El Paso. She completed her graduate education at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, earning her Ph.D. in 2014. In 2019, she returned to El Paso, joining the faculty at TTUHSC El Paso, where she made an immediate impact on her students and the community.

Shortly after Dr Chacon joined TTUHSC El Paso, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted health in the Borderland. In support of Dr. Chacon’s community outreach efforts, The Meadows Foundation earmarked $50,000 of a larger Covid-related grant for Dr. Chacon’s efforts in supporting underserved areas experiencing disproportionate rates of COVID-19. Educational resource kits with face masks, hand sanitizer, testing and vaccine information were distributed in these  areas.

Jessica Chacon, Ph.D., (center) and her EP- HEAT team distributed COVID-19 care packages to the community at Fox Plaza in South Central El Paso in April. The packages contained educational materials and testing and vaccine information.

This led to a multidepartment effort, EP-HEAT, that works with TTUHSC El Paso students to provide community COVID-19 education by developing content for virtual and in-person health fairs for local residents. The EP-HEAT team works alongside promotores to address vaccine hesitancy and provide COVID-19 educational resources to families. EP-HEAT and the team’s promotores recently provided computer literacy training aimed at connecting residents in the 79905 ZIP code – home to the TTUHSC El Paso campus – with online health resources and closing the digital divide. As an incentive, 200 residents received Lenovo ThinkPads valued at $50,000 for completing the training. The project is supported by a $100,000 grant from Microsoft.

The Promotores de Salud community health worker program currently focuses on COVID-19 vaccine education, but as the pandemic wanes, will shift to diabetes testing and prevention. The program focuses on underserved areas within the city of El Paso, starting with the 79905 neighborhood. Promotores in the program work with TTUHSC El Paso faculty, students and neighborhood residents to bridge the gap between providers and the community, identify and address health issues at the local level and increase the capacity for providing culturally competent health education.

“79905 is home to our campus, and we should be a lead resource in partnering alongside our community to improve the lives of those in our local neighborhoods,” said Dr. Chacon. “Fewer than 10% of adults have a college degree and 46% have less than a high school education. Our program seeks to align with ongoing national efforts to ensure everyone, especially those from underserved communities, have access to digital skills that improve employability and health outcomes.”

Throughout the summer, Dr. Chacon has helped provide COVID-19 vaccinations for migrant farm workers in San Elizario and Tornillo. Thousands of migrants have been vaccinated through this program, and many received gift cards to purchase food for their families. These cards were provided through a $10,000 Albertsons’ grant aimed at providing healthy food to underserved communities.

TTUHSC El Paso employees are the institution’s most valuable resource. Click here to suggest candidates for future Faculty and Staff Highlights.